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No off-season in California politics

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From page A9 | January 06, 2013 | Leave Comment

This New Year has an odd number, and traditionally that has meant it would be free of elections and campaigning.

However, there is no longer an off-season in California politics. It’s a 365/24/7 business, and 2013 promises to continue that somewhat dubious trend with a full slate of elections for local and legislative offices.

The star attraction, if that’s an accurate description, will be the mayoralty of Los Angeles, our largest – and in some ways most troubled – city.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is ending his roller-coaster reign this year and is apparently angling for an Obama Cabinet position, although he also seems to be doing his best to make himself radioactive.

His latest bid for tabloid notoriety was to be pictured arm-in-arm with Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen at the bacchanalian opening of Sheen’s new watering hole in Cabo San Lucas.

Given Villaraigosa’s checkered record and Los Angeles’ daunting problems, one wonders why anyone would want to be its mayor. The mayor always winds up with diminished stature, and it has never been a good steppingstone to higher office. Nevertheless, a flock of local politicians, and a few private citizens, are planning to run.

The off-year politicking will begin this spring, however, with two special elections for the state Senate because two Democratic senators, Juan Vargas of San Diego and Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino, were elected to Congress and resigned from the Legislature this week.

Due to an odd provision of state law, both elections will be conducted in Senate districts that no longer exist, because the senators who are quitting were first elected before new districts were drawn by an independent commission.

Newly re-elected Democratic Assemblyman Ben Hueso appears to be a shoo-in in the 40th Senate District, which runs along the California-Mexico border.

But the special election in Negrete McLeod’s old 32nd Senate District, centered in San Bernardino County, will be anything but routine, thanks to a bitter, long-running local political feud.

Another newly re-elected Democratic Assembly member, Norma Torres, is running for the seat, but she was a supporter of outgoing Rep. Joe Baca, whom Negrete McLeod unseated, so the new congresswoman is endorsing another local politico, San Bernardino Auditor-Controller Larry Walker.

It was a bad election not only for Baca, but for his son, Joe Jr., whose bid for the Assembly was turned back by Cheryl Brown, a former aide to Negrete McLeod.

Another state Senate special election will occur later in the year if Sen. Curren Price resigns to join the Los Angeles City Council, and there will be even more special votes to fill the seats of any Assembly members who move up to the Senate.

There is no off-season in California politics.

Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee. Reach him at dwalters@sacbee.com.

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